Vaccines encouraged as flu season nears

·2 min read

Sep. 10—MANKATO — The U.S. could be in store for a more severe influenza season this winter, prompting recommendations to get vaccinated heading into autumn.

The last two flu seasons were mild in Minnesota, largely because COVID-19 mitigation strategies were in place.

Now that most mitigation strategies are dropped, the conditions are in place for more flu transmission.

"That makes it increasingly more important for people to get their vaccine because we are seeing a resurgence in influenza," said Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

People might've forgotten how serious the flu can be after two milder seasons, she added. Older people and people with pre-existing conditions are especially vulnerable to the flu.

Along with fewer mitigation strategies, data from elsewhere in the world has experts expecting a more severe season. The southern hemisphere, including Australia, is used for forecasting due to its flu season preceding the northern hemisphere's season.

Looking south offers clues into what strains might circulate here and what age groups may be more vulnerable.

Australia's latest flu season exceeded five-year averages, Johnson pointed out. The strains seemed to impact children under 5 years old, she said, making it "very important for kids to get vaccinated."

Flu season in Australia also came on earlier than previous seasons. Minnesota's flu season usually peaks early in the year with gradual upticks starting in the fall.

Despite a relatively mild season, south-central Minnesota had the state's highest flu hospitalization rate during the 2021-2022 season. It also led the state in flu hospitalizations during the 2016-2017, 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 seasons.

Like the COVID-19 vaccine, influenza vaccines are effective at limiting cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

"These don't guarantee that you can't get influenza, but they do help lessen the severity and chance of getting influenza," Johnson said.

Mayo Clinic Health System anticipates starting flu vaccine clinics in October. Various pharmacies in the Mankato area recently started administering vaccines.

Flu vaccine availability coincides with the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster. Thrifty White's pharmacy and other providers planned to administer influenza and the new COVID-19 boosters to interested patients during the same appointments, said Sarah Schmidt, senior regional support pharmacist.

People may experience mild symptoms from either or both vaccinations, Johnson said, but receiving both on the same visit will be a convenient option.

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